Bible Through the Year: Episode 9

Week Nine Devotion

Last week we started reading through the book of Numbers and it kicked off a little slow. The first few chapters are about numbering all of the tribes, basically, they took a census which is helpful to give us a scope of how many people are about to set out on this wilderness journey. Then the book jumped right into how to address sin within the camp and the point of this was to seek purity before heading out.

Our reading this week will start off much the same way in that chapters 7, 8, and 9 give us details about how to move the Tabernacle, how to cleanse the priests and how to celebrate the Passover. The part about the Passover is interesting because it lets us know that they had been at Mt. Sinai for about a year.

These first few chapters are really about getting the people ready for the journey ahead. They are supposed to be heading to the Promised Land, a journey that should take about 2 weeks. They are finally ready to leave Mt. Sinai and begin what should be a short trip to the land God had promised them. So they got everything ready. They made all the necessary sacrifices and preparations. They blow the silver trumpets in chapter 10 and they are off. But they don’t get very far down the road until they have their first breakdown. Chapter 11 begins with this phrase, “And the people complained in the hearing of the Lord about their misfortunes…” This is Israel grumbling in the wilderness and this will not ever be forgotten. The prophets will bring it back up years later. Jesus will talk about it as will other NT authors.

This grumbling is one of the most unreasonable responses that Israel could come up with and it shows how ungrateful they are, how forgetful they are, and how faithless they are. Over the next few chapters, we see three major complaints come out in the form of grumbling. They grumble because they want some meat to eat and they are tired of eating manna. They grumble against Moses and Korah leads a rebellion that ends pretty terribly for him. Then they send spies out into the land and 10 out of 12 of the spies are grumbling about how it is going to be impossible for them to take over the Promised Land.

In other words, they want something different to eat, they don’t really trust their leader, and they don’t really trust their God.

Here is something to discuss…

Let’s discuss the grumbling that we see in these chapters. First, they grumble against God because they are not satisfied with the food that He has given to them. They are sick of manna and they want meat. They even go so far as to say they had it better in Egypt. Pharaoh may have been a slave driver but at least they could eat fish every now and then. So this complaint is not just about food it’s also about God. They are saying that God doesn’t provide for them the way Pharaoh once provided for them. This is first rate blasphemy.

It may seem like a small thing to want meat instead of bread, but essentially this is the same type of rebellion that we saw in the Garden. Rather than trusting in God’s Word and rather than being satisfied with God’s provision, these ornery Israelites are craving the pleasures of their captivity. This is a Biblical view of Stockholm Syndrome and it shows us just how deceitful sin can be.

Our sinful hearts would rather eat a juicy steak in captivity than to eat the bread of Heaven in freedom. Our sinful hearts would rather have our enemies’ leftovers than the bread that God sends from Heaven. Let’s make this a little more personal, we live in the wealthiest nation in the history of the world. We have more opportunities and more options than any people who have ever lived and all that we have is a gift of God’s grace.

James tells us that, “Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights…” We are the recipients of the most abundant outpouring of God’s common grace in the history of the world and on top of this, we have the gospel. We are not just blessed with a super-abundance of material things we are also blessed “with every spiritual blessing in the Heavenly realm (Eph 1:3).”

And yet, we complain that we don’t have enough. We grumble that we don’t have what we want or we let envy gnaw us from the inside. The shiny new car that our neighbors just bought or the upgraded cell phone being advertised entices us and gives way to lust in our hearts. Instead of being content with what we have long for what we don’t have.

At some level this is more than just a desire for good things, it shows a lack of gratitude for what God has done for us. It shows a lack of satisfaction for how God has provided for us. When we complain against God or we grumble because we want more, what does this say about our hearts?

I think this is a real issue in the church today and we don’t always see much less talk about it. So let me encourage you to discuss the materialism in our culture and in our hearts. And ask these questions: Why did Israel complain against God and why do we complain against God? What were they not remembering about God’s power and love? What are we failing to remember about God’s power and love? What were they not believing? What were they saying about God’s provision for them? What does this episode reveal about our own struggles with sin?

Here is something to meditate upon…

There is something else that I want you to notice in chapter 11 and it has to do with leadership among the people of God. As the people begin to grumble it is clear that God is angry with them, but it is also clear that Moses is a little fed up as well. Moses actually gets angry and does a little complaining himself in Numbers 11:11:

Moses said to the Lord, “Why have you dealt ill with your servant? And why have I not found favor in your sight, that you lay the burden of all these people on me? 12 Did I conceive all these people? Did I give them birth, that you should say to me, ‘Carry them in your bosom, as a nurse carries a nursing child,’ to the land that you swore to give their fathers? 13 Where am I to get meat to give to all these people? For they weep before me and say, ‘Give us meat, that we may eat.’ 14 I am not able to carry all these people alone; the burden is too heavy for me. 15 If you will treat me like this, kill me at once if I find favor in your sight, that I may not see my wretchedness.”

So this is pretty strong language coming from Moses and this is quite different from how he handled the golden calf incident. Back in Exodus, Moses pleaded with God not to destroy the people but to show them mercy for the sake of His (God’s) reputation. But here Moses is fed up and even says, “If You don’t plan to deal with these people then you might as well kill me.” This amounts to a prophet pitching a fit.

But in the midst of all this God does something to help His servant. Moses told God, “I am not able to bear the burden of these people alone, the burden is too heavy for me.” So in verse 16 God’s says, “Ok, then go and round up seventy men of the elders of Israel and I will make them officers to help you bear the burden of the people.”

Now, this is the second time that Moses has been told to get help in leading God’s people. The first time it was Moses father-in-law Jethro in Exodus 18 that told him to organize the people in their tribes and to appoint leaders over the people to help him deal with the needs. Now we see God doing something very similar. He is giving Moses a plan for how to organize leaders to help him care for the people of God.

This pattern of having elders lead the people will carry on all the way to the New Testament church and it even continues today. As a church planter in the 1st Century, Paul saw appointing elders as a necessary step in organizing new churches. The task of leading God’s people to the Promised Land does not fall to one man alone but to many. And when these elders are singled out by God they are given gifts that they are to use in shepherding God’s people through the wilderness.

Now, why am I pointing this out? For starters, it is encouraging to me that there is a Biblical connection between what we see in the book of Numbers, what we see in the book of Acts, and what we see taking place in the church today. Secondly, I can’t tell you how thankful I am that God has supplied Cornerstone with a team of godly elders and that I get to serve alongside them.

Here is something to pray about…

In the middle of reading through the book of Numbers, we are also going to be reading Psalm 90 this week. The reason is that Psalm 90 was written by Moses and it draws from this time period of the book of Numbers and Deuteronomy. The backdrop of this Psalm looks at some pretty hard times of suffering, the kind of suffering that Moses experienced in the wilderness. But the thing that stands out is not the suffering but the faithfulness of God.

God is faithful from everlasting to everlasting. He is the dwelling place of His people. Sin is a constant problem for us but God has a plan so that even when we are faithless He remains faithful.

So how does this Psalm lead us to pray? Like this:

12 So teach us to number our days that we may get a heart of wisdom.

13 Return, O Lord! How long? Have pity on your servants!

14 Satisfy us in the morning with your steadfast love, that we may rejoice and be glad all our days.

15 Make us glad for as many days as you have afflicted us, and for as many years as we have seen evil.

16 Let your work be shown to your servants and your glorious power to their children.

17 Let the favor of the Lord our God be upon us, and establish the work of our hands upon us; yes, establish the work of our hands!

This Psalm is a ready-made prayer so take some time this week and pray through verse 12-17. Pray to God what Moses said to God. Pray that God would teach us to number our days and not waste them. Pray that God would send Jesus back quickly to heal the brokenness caused by sin.

Pray that we would be satisfied with God’s provision and even rejoice in what He had done for us. Pray that our gladness would drown out our sadness. Pray that God would raise up our children to faith in Christ and lead them into greater faithfulness than our own generation. Pray that God would bless us, work in us and use us in this world for the sake of His glory.



Justin Wheeler

Pastor of Cornerstone Baptist Church in Wylie, TX.